Surfing is many things. For Italo Ferreira, it’s blasting a massive, spinning, yet-to-be-named air move in the dying seconds of a WSL final. For Maya Gabeira, it’s flying down a 73.5-foot wave at Nazaré. For Joel Tudor, it’s curling toes over the nose of his nine-six Donald Takayama. But for most of, surfing is fun. And for filmmaker Jack Coleman, it’s a particular flavor of fun.
“They’re about performance surfing, but also performance art,” he said of his films. “I like representing people who are fun, creative, unique, and f—king epic. I like working with people I want to hang out with.”
A California boy through and through, Jack grew up about 30 miles inland, in La Mirada. At age 18, he moved to the beach, first Huntington, then San Diego, then Newport (for 20 years), then Encinitas, where he now resides. Jack didn’t set out to be a surf filmmaker. After attending San Diego State University, and ArtCenter College of Design, he worked as a photographer, and directed music videos.
“I eventually hit a point where I went, ‘What’s all this for? I’m happiest at the beach, just surfing,’” he told me.
In 2009, with the surfer Al Knost, he embarked upon his first feature-length surf film: “Polyester,” shot exclusively on Super 8. He loved the process—especially that he got to hang out with friends. Next up was “Groove Move,” “Secret Sound Underground,” a bunch of montage-type clips, profiles, and much more.
“Zone Frequency” is Jack’s favorite film from his catalogue, and it’s mine too. A visual delight, its cast of merry pranksters includes Bryce Young, Ryan Burch, Derrick Disney, Ari Browne, Ozzie Wright, Asher Pacey, Robin Kegel, Andy Nieblas, Gavin Beschen, Eric Snortum, and Rangi Ormond. Between the surf parts are palate cleansers of retinal and aural oddness. Jack cut and scored the film specifically to ease feelings of anxiety.
“It started in 2016, when I had my first panic attack,” he said. “So, that’s what led me into researching sounds and frequencies that emit proper vibration. ‘Zone Frequency’ is family, friendship, love—and how surfing is intertwined. Every shot in the movie has a meaning and a purpose to it.”
I watched the film a couple of times. There’s a lot of sideslipping, spinning, somersaulting, and clowning around. It reminded me that great surfing doesn’t have to come all tensed up. It can be easy, relaxed, playful. I was reminded of my teenage surf stoke, back when waves played in a loop in my mind, back when there was always sand in my bed.
The soundtrack is spectacular. “I grew up in the ‘80s with cassette tapes, and I used to make mixtapes,” said Jack. “I made them all day long for friends and girls. It was really a process, and I loved seeing people’s reactions to them. And I think that was kind of training me for putting together music for my films.”
I recently ran into Jack on the North Shore. Tripod and camera underarm, he was shooting footage for his new film. “I’m really fired up about it,” he told me. “I want to send a positive message underlying the surfing, but of course it’s always about the surfing and the surfers. It’s got a lot of Ryan Burch. And Steph Gilmore and Leah Dawson. I should have it out by summer.”
We were standing on the beach at Rockpile. The sun was hot, the sky cloudless. A sapphire blue lefthander peeled beautifully across the reef. There was a second wave behind it. It was a couple times overhead, and a goofy footer laid into a sweet bottom turn. Jack had a frothy look on his face as he watched.
“Man, I just love the ocean,” he told me. “I love the sun. I love the salt. I love all of it.”